It's easy to roll your eyes at many of the tiny "crossovers" that are flowing out of carmakers these days. Though marketed as crossovers and given a few token styling cues to go with a modest increase of ride and seat height, most are simply glorified hatchbacks. That description certainly applies to the 2020 Nissan Kicks, which doesn't even offer all-wheel drive to satisfy the crossover M.O. But here's the thing: Being a hatchback isn't bad, and the Kicks is quite a good one. It supplies a massive amount of space for a vehicle its size, comes with a wealth of safety features for a vehicle with its modest price, and doesn't feel like a penalty box to sit in or drive despite the hatchback reputation. For those seeking an efficient, inexpensive urban runabout that can swallow enough stuff for a weekend getaway, it makes a lot of sense.
Indeed, it makes more sense in that scenario than other subcompact "crossovers" that usually cost more and provide less space. Upper trim levels are also quite nicely adorned, with a few key trim pieces drawing your eyes away from understandably cheaper ones. However, there are reasons it's not a slam dunk. Nissan's engineers did their best to make the Kicks feel quick enough, but there's only so much one can do with a wheezy 122 horsepower. Its lack of all-wheel drive is another issue, and the unusual steering can frustrate. This is by no means a fun car to drive, and it's hardly a comfy, quiet, long-distance cruiser, either. So it's not perfect, but within the segment company it keeps, it doesn't need to be.
The Nissan Safety Shield 360 collection of driver assistance and safety technologies is now standard on every Kicks for 2020.
The Kicks provides a surprisingly premium environment for its price point. Although there's no shortage of hard plastic about, on the door sills in particular, the areas you prominently see and touch are of a relatively higher quality. Even the base trims come with nifty quilted cloth upholstery and a nicely contoured flat-bottomed steering wheel. That gets wrapped in leather in the SR trim level, which also gets simulated leather applied to dash with orange accents that really step up the vibe.
The buttons and knobs throughout move and click in a pleasing way, while the SV and SR trims get a large, configurable display in the instrument panel. Standard on every Kicks, meanwhile, is a 7-inch touchscreen mounted a bit lower than those of some rivals, but it's also pretty easy to reach, and it avoids the tacked-on-iPad look that some dislike. The system is also pretty straightforward to use, especially if you mostly rely on it for simple tasks like changing radio stations. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on the SV and SL along with satellite radio. The SR trim can be equipped with an optional Bose sound system that adds speakers inside the driver's headrest (no soup for you, Mr. Passenger).
On the outside, the Kicks measures up to being one of the longer subcompact SUVs — it's pretty close to the Honda HR-V. Notable competitors like the Kia Soul and Hyundai Kona don't take up as much space, and despite the two resembling each other, the Kicks is considerably larger than the Hyundai Venue. That said, we're talking a difference of inches here. The Kicks is still far smaller than Nissan's Rogue and other compact SUVs.
Despite this, the Kicks manages to better some of those compact SUVs in terms of cargo capacity, and no other subcompact model, aside from the HR-V, comes close to its stuff-carrying potential. Its cargo area is deep, wide and boxy, and the available roof rail crossbars are big, sturdy things well-suited to expanding capacity with a roof box or equipment racks. Passenger space is also generous for this segment thanks to tall-mounted seats that provide ample, chair-like leg support (basically, your legs aren't squished despite the seats being fairly close together). The bubble-like greenhouse also affords excellent headroom and visibility.